Winter has arrived in Manitoba and that means influenza season is well underway. Influenza is caused by viruses that infect your nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms usually appear suddenly and can include a cough, fever, sore throat, muscle aches, joint pain and exhaustion. Contracting influenza can lead to potentially dangerous complications – particularly for older adults.
The best way to protect yourself from influenza, and avoid spreading it to others, is to get an influenza vaccine. The influenza virus changes from year to year and so does the vaccine. This is why it’s so important to get the influenza vaccine annually. In Manitoba, the vaccine is offered free of charge to all Manitobans six months of age and older; healthy children between two and 17 years of age have the option of receiving a needle-free vaccine called FluMist© Quadrivalent.
I understand how important it is that all Manitobans are vaccinated, so I make sure I get my influenza vaccine every fall. I also encourage family, friends, colleagues and readers of this newspaper, to get the vaccine. Though influenza season lasts into the spring, the earlier you are vaccinated, the better. Even if you are not showing symptoms, you could still be carrying the virus and passing it onto others who could be more vulnerable to complications.
Being older than 65 puts you at higher risk It’s a fact that as we age, our immune system weakens. This makes older adults more susceptible to getting influenza, and the consequences can be serious, even deadly. The virus is especially dangerous for those with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and lung disease.
Millions of Canadians get their influenza vaccine every year and serious side effects are very rare. While the vaccine may cause minor side effects, these are usually mild (such as a sore arm or leg, a headache or feeling tired) and last only a few days. The risks of serious complications from influenza are far greater than the possible side effects from the vaccine.
Don’t spread the disease around. Influenza can spread easily from person to person through coughing, sneezing or sharing food and drinks. You can also get it by touching your mouth, eyes or nose after contact with the virus.
If you are experiencing influenza symptoms:
- Stay at home and limit contact with others.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow/sleeve, or use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth. Place the tissue in the garbage immediately after using it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
If your symptoms get worse, visit a doctor. If you are having trouble breathing, call 911.
Pneumococcal shots for seniors
Due to the higher risks faced by seniors over 65 years of age, Manitoba Health, Healthy Living and Seniors recommends this group receive a pneumococcal vaccine to help protect against pneumonia, blood infections and meningitis. If you are over 65 and have never been vaccinated for pneumococcal disease, the vaccine is free of charge, and you can receive it when you come for your annual influenza vaccine. Unlike the influenza vaccine, most adults only require one pneumococcal vaccine in their lifetime.
For more information
For more information on influenza and pneumococcal vaccines, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or public health nurse, or call Health Links-Info Santé at 204-788-8200 (in Winnipeg) or toll free 1-888-315-9257 elsewhere in Manitoba. You’ll also find a wide variety of resources to help you better understand influenza on Manitoba’s seasonal influenza website at www.manitoba.ca/health/flu/.
As always, we welcome your comments and questions. Please contact the seniors information line at 204-945-6565 in Winnipeg; toll free 1-800-665-6565.
Hon. Deanne Crothers is Minister of Healthy Living and Seniors.